Post Tagged with: "Fischer"

Is Gov. Heineman more serious about U.S. Senate run?

Is Gov. Heineman more serious about U.S. Senate run?

 Guessing what Gov. Dave Heineman will do is a dangerous game.

 He’s an unpreditable guy, as evidenced by his recent selection of Lavon Heidemann as lieutentant governor. No one saw that coming.

  And remember when he shocked everyone by calling for a special legislative session on the Keystone XL pipeline?

 There are other examples. Overall, it’s safe to say that Heineman, a former Army ranger, plays his cards very close to the vest before he plays them.

 But there’s some indications out there that he might seriously be looking at running for the U.S. Senate. At very least, he’s looking more seriously than he did two years ago.

 Back then, when U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., decided to retire, the Senate seat was Heineman’s to take. But the governor decided to pass in 2012, partly because he doesn’t like Washington, D.C., partly because he prefers being a leader to a legislator, and partly because he had more work to do as governor. His decision, of course, opened the way to the surprise election of former State Sen. Deb Fischer.

 Now, with the pending retirement of U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., Heineman is taking another look, and maybe a more serious look. And there’s reasons to take a more serious look.

 Heineman, 64, has two years left to serve as governor. So the clock is ticking. It’s no fun being a lame duck, and, by all appearances, he’s going to have a hard time getting major initiatives through a more and more independent State Legislature. Look at what happened to his bold tax reform plan this year. It was turned into a study.

 What is the governor going to do when he leaves the Mansion? That’s a good question. The rumor mill has been passing around talk for several months that he might become president of the University of Nebraska. But J.B. Milliken already holds that job, and there’s no public indication that he’s going anywhere. So there’s no solid post-governor plan for the governor.

 Now, we hear that the governor grew frustrated with the current tone of things in Washington during a recent visit there for the National Governor’s Association meeting. And there’s a lot of talk about the need for a Republican resurgence, after failing to win the White House last fall.

 Two years ago, Heineman was a long shot to run for Senate. He may not be this time.






March 4, 2013 Comments Read More
Nebraska Legislature: Heineman’s initiatives coming

Nebraska Legislature: Heineman’s initiatives coming

This is the week we finally find out what Gov. Dave Heineman has up his sleeve for 2013.

The governor has never been much for tipping his hand before his annual State of the State address (this year on Tuesday). But he’s been even more secretive than ever this year.

That could be, as some speculate, because his plan has been so fluid. You can bet on something dealing with inheritance taxes, but what else? A flat income tax? Eliminating sales tax exemptions?

Heineman says that the budget is the first priority, so maybe he waited to see if the state’s fiscal situation cleared up. That hasn’t really happened. Last month’s bumper receipt of taxes was more about people selling off assets in anticipation of the fiscal cliff than an undication that the economy is on totally solid ground now.

Some observations from the first week:

January 14, 2013 Comments Read More
Nebraska races tighten; spending soars

Nebraska races tighten; spending soars

With a week to go before election night, at least a couple of things are becoming clear.

 First off, there’s a legitimate race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Ben Nelson. Secondly, it’s open season for big spending in state legislative races.

 While it might be hard to believe that former U.S. Sen. and Nebraska Gov. Bob Kerrey has narrowed the gap to 3 percentage points or less (as shown in our World-Herald poll on Sunday and a Kerrey poll released Monday), it’s safe to assume that it’s a much closer race than portrayed by State Sen. Deb Fischer, whose pollster says she has a double-digit lead.

October 29, 2012 Comments Read More
Nebraska Legislature — races to watch on Tuesday

Nebraska Legislature — races to watch on Tuesday

Twenty-five seats in the 49-seat Nebraska Legislature are up for grabs this year and Tuesday’s primary could tell us a lot about the mood of the voters.

 Is there a “get rid of incumbents” streak out there, like there seems to be with the U.S. Congress?

 Are voters comfortable with the Legislature’s controversial decisions to restore prenatal care for illegal immigrants and allow cities, with voter approval, to raise local sales taxes by a half cent?

 And, can a couple of recent appointees of Gov. Dave Heineman withstand some stilff challenges in their districts?

 A veteran lobbyist has said that appointed senators are like barn cats — you’d better not get too attached to them.

 But will voters feel the same way about Sen. Dave Bloomfield in northeast Nebraska’s 17th District and Sen. Paul Lambert in the 2nd District in Cass County, just south of Omaha.

Bloomfield was a soft-spoken legislator,  but will get a stiff challenge from a trio of candidates in his district, including Van Phillips, the former superintendent of schools in South Sioux City, the district’s largest city. Some think Bloomfield won’t get out of the primary.

 Lambert was more talkative, weighing in on issues like the half-cent sales tax bill and another to maintain a tax-exemption for cities who finance buildings via non-profit leasing corporations. But the former Plattsmouth mayor has five opponents, including Robyn Larson, the mother of current Sen. Tyson Larson.

 Other questions:

 – can incumbent Ken Haar out-poll a well-financed pro-life opponent, Mike Hilgers, in District 21 in northern Lancaster County? The primary results will tell us a lot about what to expect in November.

 – ditto with Omaha’s District 11, where incumbent Sen. Brenda Council will face off with former Sen. Ernie Chambers? Will Ernie have to do some campaigning to win? He said he did do campaign signs way back in the ’70s. But he won several re-election bids by just filing for the office.

 – who emerges from a seven-candidate field in District 43 in Nebraska’s Sand Hills to replace Sen. Deb Fischer, who is term-limited  but in a hot race for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate. Could a non-rancher win that seat?

 The U.S. Senate race is getting almost all of the primary chatter this year. And we’ll find out Tuesday if Fischer’s purported late surge is enough to overcome the early lead amassed by Atttorney General Jon Bruning and the solid base of State Treasurer Don Stenberg.

 It would be an epic upset if Fischer pulls it out. It would confirm what some say about Bruning’s support among Republicans — that it’s like the Platte River, a mile wide and an inch deep.

May 14, 2012 Comments Read More
Nebraska Legislature: Forecast-ageddon on Friday

Nebraska Legislature: Forecast-ageddon on Friday

Friday’s the day everyone in the Legislature has been waiting for this year.

No, it’s not that big steak fry the senators all talk about. It’s the day the new tax revenue forecasts will be made by the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board.

Feb. 24 — let’s call it “forecast-ageddon”!

The mostly obscure, nine-member board of business operators, bankers and economists meets two to three times a year to project how much sales, income and miscellaneous taxes (liquor taxes and such) the state can expect in the upcoming months.

It sets a benchmark on how much the state can spend. If forecasts are too low, it’s time to cut spending or raise taxes; if they’re too high, it’s time to plump up the cash reserves, give some back in the form of tax cuts or spend away on new programs or projects.

Recent forecasts have been on the gloomy side, leaving state legislators to cut spending and programs and hold off on tax cuts. But Gov. Heineman is among those thinking that better days are ahead and that the state has enough money now to afford a $130 million a year tax cut.

There are many doubters, and Friday’s forecast will shed some light, hopefully, on who’s right — those who think happy times are here again and the state can afford $95 million in new University of Nebraska construction projects, the governor’s tax cuts and a bunch of tax exemptions; or those who think we should hold tight and watch our purse strings.

A new group, the OpenSky Policy Institute, chimed in this week. It said that unless the new tax forecasts are amazingly good, the state ought to hold back on tax cuts. The state can’t afford them, the group said, and besides, states don’t cut taxes when they’re facing a budget gap in the future (projected at over $600 million in the next biennium).

Even conservative State Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine, who is running for U.S. Senate, urged caution this week. She said she was flabbergasted at the number of spending proposals and tax exemptions pitched by her colleagues this year  — which all cost money and take away revenue from current state priorities. She, too, said the state can’t afford it all.

Fischer, whose father used to be a state roads director, is concerned about one spending priority in particular: her bill last year that earmarks an additional $70 million-a-year in taxpayer money for new highways.

That’s a major chunk of change, but so would $130 million in tax cuts, or $19 million for the crippled child-welfare system, or $95 million for NU.

The Speaker of the Legislature, Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, has talked of lawmakers mixing together a “stew” of tax cuts, spending priorities and business incentives.

Friday, the projections of the Economic Forecasting board will launch the Legislature into high fiscal gear. The Appropriations Committee will start computing how much it can spend, the Revenue Committee will figure how many taxes can be cut, and Gov. Heineman will start working on what he can get out of the pot.

Friday will tell us if there’s meat on the economic recovery in Nebraska that we can all chew on, or more stew bones ahead.

February 23, 2012 Comments Read More
When to grant tax breaks, and when tax breaks break the bank

When to grant tax breaks, and when tax breaks break the bank

When covering government, they always say “follow the money.” And in the Nebraska Legislature, many of those money decisions occur in the Revenue Committee.

Consider this recent case before the committee: a home-grown, high-tech corporation, spawned on weekends and nights by two professors, has grown into a multi-million enterprise.

But they must pay $500,000-a-year in sales taxes on “biochips” the company uses to check out the genes in breeding cattle (which saves cattlemen time and money in picking the superior critters to breed).

The company, GeneSeek of Lincoln, says their annual economic impact is $42 million a year, and a quarter of their 45 employees are high-paid PhDs or masters-degree recipients. And they also pay $330,000 a year in royalties to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

But that nasty tax bill will impact where GeneSeek, which is now owned by a multi-national firm headquartered in Michigan, will expand.

This is exactly the kind of high-tech, high-paying, homegrown company Nebraska is trying to retain and grow by establishing Innovation Park on the doorstep of the UNL campus.

But a tax break for GeneSeek is no slam dunk, it appears.

They are one of a long line of companies, entities and industries seeking tax breaks from the state this year. Wind farms want another break, two data center projects want breaks, “procurement processing companies” want a break and so do folks who fix up historic properties. Even tanning salons want a break (to bake) this year.

At one point during a hearing Wednesday, Valentine Sen. Deb Fischer asked in frustration if all new companies looking at expanding at Innovation Park will need a tax break.

A university official said “no” but you get the picture.

It leaves legislators with an interesting dilemma — do you grant tax breaks to budding business, thus narrowing who pays the bills for state government, or do you, at some point, conclude that Nebraska is giving away too many goodies and someone has to pay the bills?

Stay tuned. The tax-break decisions will have a bearing on whether the state can grant tax breaks, fix the messed-up child welfare system and keep the budget in balance.

January 26, 2012 Comments Read More
Going green in public hearings gets red light, for now

Going green in public hearings gets red light, for now

Would going paperless – or at least using less paper – alter the way the Nebraska Legislature operates? Would citizens who drive in from Scottsbluff or south Omaha be upset to find lawmakers staring at computers during public hearings?

Those were questions state senators wrestled with Wednesday as they debated a proposal to require that handouts at committee hearings be submitted electronically, rather than in paper form. The proposal would allow senators to use laptop computers and other devices during committee hearings.

State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha pushed the change, calling the mounds of exhibits that accumulate during committee hearings a waste of paper.

He said lobbyists, state agency officials and others who testify regularly at hearings could email their handouts and a way could be developed to scan documents from other citizens on the spot. Lawmakers could see the exhibits on their computers during testimony, as could the general public. 

Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm endorsed the idea. “The stacks and reams of paper we get just aren’t necessary,” he said. “There’s really no place in society anymore where people don’t use their computers.”

But other senators expressed caution. Sen Greg Adams of York said citizens deserve the attention of state lawmakers while they testify and questioned whether people would feel confident their concerns were being heard by a lawmaker staring at a computer screen.

Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine, who described herself as a “crudge-mudgeon” on the issue, agreed. “A public hearing is different. It’s a chance for the public to speak to us and we can listen,” she said.

In the end, Lautenbaugh withdrew his proposal and promised to study the issue further. ”I do think we need to move forward on something,” he said. 


January 11, 2012 Comments Read More